A few weeks ago, the small but earnest Battery Show wrapped up its eighth annual North American event in Novi, Mich. Over three days, 8,311 attendees and 847 conference delegates walked through a hall featuring companies working on every aspect of automotive propulsion battery technology and handing out all manner of little chocolates.
The attendee and delegate numbers were up from the 2016 (6,928 and 686) and 2015 (5,716 and 576) figures, just one small example of the undeniable growth in the nitty-gritty work of improving battery technology. Alongside the expo, conference sessions covered everything from battery thermal-management strategies to global safety certification for lithium ion batteries to the effect of autonomous technologies on electric vehicles. Despite the depth of discussion, the conference didn't generate any major headlines in the automotive press.
Turns out, the EV revolution is not being televised. In an era of stable gasoline prices and booming SUV sales, even dramatic advances in EV development don't often make big headlines, unless it's a Tesla product reveal or an automaker announcing plans to add electrification across its lineup.
The news is out there, though, if you know where to look. The all-electric Formula E racing series, for example, is welcoming new automaker teams: BMW in 2018 and Mercedes-Benz in 2019, after Audi arrived as a full team sponsor this past season and Jaguar in 2016.
Ford's most recent sustainability report lists electrification as one of the company's Strategic Priorities (along with a mission to keep selling standard SUVs and pickups, of course).
In September, electric-bus-maker Proterra claimed a record for the longest distance traveled by an EV on a single charge, with a 1,101.2-mile test drive on a track in Indiana using a bus with a giant 660 kilowatt-hour pack.
Sure, if you pack a big enough battery into a vehicle, you can always increase the overall range, but the important thing to note is the miles-per-kWh number for this record: 1.67. In September 2016, Proterra's record was 603 miles with a 440 kWh pack, or 1.37 miles per kWh, while the 2015 number stood at 258 miles from a 257 kWh pack, or 1 mile per kWh.
In two years, Proterra managed a dramatic range increase, but most people didn't read anything about it. Nonetheless, these sorts of advances — and what they mean for the transportation industry — are not escaping the notice of the industry's big players. In fact, they've been watching for them all along.